Fragile Continuities

Collected Writings on Music (1978-2021)

James Erber

First Edition, 2022
0016-MC
© 2022
ISBN: 978-1-7397815-0-7

 


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This collection of articles, lectures and reviews offers a captivating insight into the musical world of James Erber. He writes lucidly and accessibly about his own work: we find out not only how the music was composed, but why, with reference to the wide range of influences, musical and non-musical, that underlie it. Erber also discusses a broad spectrum of music by other composers, ranging from contemporary masterpieces by Nono, Ferneyhough and Finnissy to a collection of early seventeenth­–century Italian sacred music and the dance band music of the 1930s. The book also includes a biography and a list of works, as well as especially-written articles by Pavlos Antoniadis and Franklin Cox, which combine a high level of scholarship with an intimate knowledge of Erber’s music.

A wonderfully intriguing window into the mind of a composer who, for all of the novelty in his music, is deeply connected to his forebears. This is borne out in analyses of James Erber’s multivalent works, principally by the composer, that reveal the stratification and reimagining of compositions from William Byrd to Big Bill Broonzy. Not limited to his own works, Erber’s lucid writing about the music of composers ranging from Christian Wolff to Michael Finnissy are also represented, providing another pathway into Erber’s deeply considered thinking. For those familiar with Erber’s work, this will provide powerful insight into its mechanics and aesthetics. For those new to his music, a magnificent world awaits.

Jason Eckardt, composer, Professor, City University of New York

A casual glance at a page of one of James Erber’s scores may well give the impression of a forbidding and impenetrable complexity. In this book, however, written in eloquent and articulate prose, Erber provides a clear exegesis of the technical aspects of his music, accompanied by many beautifully presented music examples. In addition, he reveals a palpable love for, and encyclopaedic knowledge of (to name just a few) early Baroque music, the visual arts, literature, Jazz, blues, the culture of Indonesia and the natural world, all of which contribute to the richly allusive backdrop for his work.

Richard Emsley, composer

This welcome collection of articles, analyses, reviews and other writings provides a fascinating, erudite and detailed insight into the background, compositional methods and aesthetics of the beautifully refined works of James Erber, music in which a dialectic of the systematic and the intuitive is fundamental. The reader will discover how a synthesis of historical models, philosophical concepts and symbols (especially from the Renaissance and early Baroque) with contemporary approaches and techniques is at the heart of this work. James Erber is one of the most important and original voices in British new music, a composer whose unashamedly intellectual approach and refusal to be swayed by fashion in pursuit of his artistic vision is all so rare and admirable, especially in the current neoliberal-dominated cultural climate. This volume will bring further, much-deserved recognition to his work.

Sam Hayden, Professor of Composition, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

Everything about this book is generous. It reveals James Erber’s openness to an extraordinary wealth of both musical and extra-musical influences and also his joy at showing how these influences resonate in his compositions at many levels. Unlike several contemporary composers who either can’t or won’t discuss how their music is constructed, Erber gives an exceptionally detailed and lively exegesis of several works, richly illustrated with musical examples. Although the book is unashamedly aimed at specialists, the text is often playful and written without obfuscation: it illuminates the most complex of ideas with a lightness of touch that belies the author’s formidable intellect. This book confirms why James Erber is one of the most original composers of his generation, and provides the reader with an illuminating cultural contextualisation of some truly important works.

Sadie Harrison, composer, Fellow of Goldsmiths College 

121pp, 182mm x 257mm, paperback edition, mono